Metro workers in close call on tracks

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 6:20 PM

A Metro work crew experienced a close call last month on the Yellow and Blue lines after the operations center failed to notify them of trains being directed into their work zone, transit officials said Wednesday.

The track crew was conducting equipment tests near Braddock Road and "there was a communications issue that caused a train . . . that the workers were not aware of" to be routed onto a track, spokesman Reggie Woodruff said. There were no injuries, he said.

A track worker positioned to watch for oncoming trains warned the rest of the crew that a train was approaching, said Matt Bassett, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees safety at Metro. Metro reported the incident to the committee and conducted an investigation. The news was first reported by WTOP.

Metro characterized the incident as a "near miss," although officials said that because the workers had not yet entered the portion of the track where the trains had been routed, they were not in immediate danger.

"The workers were never in harm's way, however, we still categorized it as a 'near miss,' consistent with a true system safety approach, because the potential for injury existed," Woodruff said in an e-mail.

At the time of the incident, trains were being allowed to travel on the track where work was being performed - the outbound track between King Street and Potomac Yard - but at a slower speed and only in one direction, Woodruff said.

However, a train became disabled on the inbound track, requiring trains to single-track through the work zone. "Since only one track was now available, trains were routed over switches to allow them to travel in both directions, through the area of the disabled train. This area included a part of the original work zone," Woodruff said.

An investigation by Metro's rail and safety departments determined that the crew was not informed about the changes in train movements, which was a safety violation.

Bassett said Metro's Operations Control Center had not notified the workers of the change in routing, as required under safety protocol.

"They were not in imminent danger, but the OCC should have caught it," he said.

Bassett said that such close calls are reported from time to time, more often now than a year ago because of Metro's heightened attention to safety.

"I don't know if a year ago this would have been investigated stringently" or the TOC been notified, he said.

"It's not good that it happened, but the response does indicate some progress," he added.

Since the 2009 crash on the Red Line, four workers have been killed on the tracks.

Two track workers were killed by a service vehicle near Rockville Station in January; a worker was killed by a train in September 2009 between Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport stations; and a worker died in August 2009 after being hit by a gravel-spreading machine on the Orange Line.

A team of independent safety inspectors was nearly hit in December near Alexandria's Braddock Road Station and "were forced to quickly scramble out of the way to avoid being struck," according to a report released earlier this year by the Tri-State Oversight Committee.

No one was injured in that incident.

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